The Beauty of Books

The Yellow Books, 1887, Vincent van Gogh

The Yellow Books, 1887, Vincent van Gogh

I love reading.

A few quotes on books and reading from writers and scientists.

With what admiration the reading of excellent poets fills anyone who attentively studies the invention and interpretation of concepts! And what shall I say of architecture? What of the art of navigation?

But surpassing all stupendous inventions, what sublimity of mind was his who dreamed of finding means to communicate his deepest thoughts to any other person, though distant by mighty intervals of place and time! Of talking with those who are in India; of speaking to those who are not yet born and will not be born for a thousand or ten thousand years; and with what facility, by the different arrangements of twenty characters upon a page!

Let this be the seal of all the admirable inventions of mankind.

Galileo in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican

I think part of the fun, for me, was being part of some kind of an exchange between consciousnesses, a way for human beings to talk to each other about stuff we can’t normally talk about.

There’s this part that makes you feel full. There’s this part that is redemptive and instructive, [so that] when you read something, it’s not just delight — you go, “Oh my god, that’s me! I’ve lived like that, I’ve felt like that, I’m not alone in the world…”

David Foster Wallace

A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another

– Rebecca Solnit

Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

C.S. Lewis

Reading is the work of the alert mind, is demanding, and under ideal conditions produces finally a sort of ecstasy

– E.B. White

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? [...] We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.

– Franz Kafka

By the time I was thirteen I had read myself out of Harlem [...] What I had to do then was bring the two things together: the possibilities the books suggested and the impossibilities of the life around me. Dickens meant a lot to me, for example, because there was a rage in Dickens which was also in me [...] Something I recognized without knowing what I recognized.

James Baldwin

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

Books are like seeds; they can lie dormant for centuries, but they may also produce flowers in the most unpromising soil. These books are the repositories of the knowledge of our species, and of our long evolutionary journey. These books are capable of propelling you to unimaginable heights of success.

If I were to read a book a week for my entire adult lifetime, and I lived an ordinary lifetime, when I was all done, I would have read maybe a few thousand books, no more. In this library, that's from about here, roughly, to about here. That's only a tenth of a percent or so of the total number of books in the library. The trick is to know which books to read.

– Carl sagan from the 11th episode of Cosmos, "The Persistence of Memory"

reading lists I've collected over time

from people